As a single mom, a registered nurse and a community activist, I spent 24 years as the CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida. I’ve marched in Washington and demonstrated against lawmakers in Tallahassee. I testified in lawsuits in state and federal courts, including the Florida Supreme Court, and prevailed in every fight. But I’ve never been more horrified about the future of abortion rights in our state.
During this session, our Republican legislators have launched an all out attack on reproductive freedom. HB 5 — a ban on abortion after 15 weeks, without any exceptions in cases of rape, incest and human trafficking — is on a fast track through the Legislature; the House passed its version early this morning. And it could be signed into law before the month is over. And with 49 years of constitutionally guaranteed access to abortion hanging on by a thread, Florida may no longer have federal protections if this bill passes. If Roe v. Wade is overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court and Florida bans abortion, people will be forced out of state to seek essential health care services. This is not the “Free Florida” the governor brags about. It is hypocrisy.
In my years at Planned Parenthood, I never heard two stories that were the same about the hard decision to end a pregnancy. Every pregnancy is unique and everyone deserves the freedom to make their own decisions about their bodies and their futures — including the decision to have an abortion. The majority of patients I met who came to Planned Parenthood seeking care after 15 weeks were facing the most difficult situations, either because they had a serious health complication, received a fatal fetal diagnosis or because of extreme life circumstances.
Now imagine being forced to travel long distances, wait days between appointments, take time off of work, find child care and pay out of pocket without insurance coverage to access care. This is both immoral and impossible for the majority of Floridians — whose closest option for abortion services would be North Carolina. And barriers fall hardest on those with the least access to health care already — Black, Hispanic and other communities of color, under-resourced people, young people, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ+ community and those in rural areas.
Abortion bans are part of a nationally coordinated, politically motivated effort to exert control over people’s bodies, putting politicians in between a person and their doctor, their family and their faith. Reproductive health care or any healthcare for that matter should not be politicized. No matter how you feel about abortion, a person’s health — not political agendas _ should drive important medical decisions. Politicians have been working for decades to make it as difficult as possible to access abortion care.
I’m no stranger to this battle. My team and I braved death threats and bomb scares. I’ve navigated my way into the office through throngs of protestors more times than you could imagine. I’ve worked alongside heroic doctors and clinicians who put their lives on the line every single day for their patients. I’ve never backed down, and I refuse to be silent in the face of these attacks on our bodies and our freedom.
It’s only a matter of time before the 15-week abortion ban becomes Florida law. The Republican majority has been anxiously waiting for the election year to pass this cruel ban, hoping to flood their campaign coffers and motivate their base. They may win the battle, but we cannot let them win the war.
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The only way we’ll stop Florida from sliding further backward is at the ballot box come November. It’s why I’ve chosen to get involved in organizations like Ruth’s List Florida, that encourage and support pro-choice women to run for office — women who are aligned with the majority of Floridians when it comes to abortion access, and who will fight tooth and nail to protect our rights. Elections have consequences and we are living through that nightmare right now.
It’s time to send a loud and clear message to our representatives and senators before this bill hits the governor’s desk that Floridians want and deserve reproductive freedom. We must accept nothing less.
Barbara Zdravecky served as president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida for 24 years. She is a member of the Ruth’s List Florida Inc. Board of Directors.